Danny Harold Rolling, Florida’s most notorious serial killer since Ted Bundy, was ”remarkably calm” as he awaited his execution for the grisly 1990 slayings of five college students in Gainesville, his attorney said last night.
Rolling’s lawyers filed papers with the US Supreme Court seeking a stay of execution. The Florida attorney general asked the court to reject Rolling’s application.
Rolling, 52, was scheduled to die at 6pm (11pm Irish time) on Wednesday for a reign of terror that paralysed Gainesville as the University of Florida’s autumn term was beginning 16 years ago.
“He was remarkably calm. He is a lot calmer than his lawyers are,” said Baya Harrison, his appeals lawyer. He said that Rolling told him: “I don’t want to die, but it looks like I’m going to die.”
His execution is reopening old wounds for some of the victims’ families. Several relatives plan to watch the execution at Florida State Prison in Starke, including Diana Hoyt, the stepmother of Christa Hoyt.
“This is a tough thing, but is a necessary thing to go through,” she said. “This is the final thing we can do for Christa and for my late husband and her dad, Gary.”
“It is very hard for us to see someone else die,” she said. “But, he deserves it.”
Ricky Paules, the mother of victim Tracy Paules, will be joined by another daughter: “If you see us crying, it is not for Rolling, but for Tracy.”
The students’ bodies, some mutilated, posed and sexually assaulted, were found over a three-day period in August and September 1990. The killing spree touched off a massive manhunt, causing students to cower in fear and purchase weapons as the killer remained unidentified.
Rolling was in jail for a supermarket robbery when investigators used DNA to link him to the killings months later. When he was finally scheduled to go on trial in 1994, he shocked the courtroom by pleading guilty to the five slayings.
Rolling’s remaining appeal contends that the chemicals used in Florida’s execution process can cause severe pain. It is before the US Supreme Court, which has turned down the same arguments in two other Florida executions this fall.
Harrison does not believe he will be able to halt the execution.
“It’s tough, we are down to the last effort,” Harrison said. “I’m not hopeful, to tell you the truth.”
Crowds are expected outside the prison Wednesday, with possibly the largest turnout since Bundy’s execution. Bundy was suspected in the deaths and disappearances of 36 women across the country. He was electrocuted Jan. 24, 1989, in the same death chamber where Rolling will die by lethal injection.
That case was still fresh in the minds of many when Rolling’s killings began the next year in roughly the same area as some of Bundy’s.
Sonja Larson, 18, and Christina Powell, 17, were stabbed to death on a Sunday afternoon in 1990, in a townhouse just off the University of Florida campus. The 18-year-old Hoyt, who had been decapitated, was found the next morning in her isolated duplex; and Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada, both 23, were discovered dead a day later at Gatorwood Apartments.
Authorities in Rolling’s hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, investigating a triple slaying that they believe he committed, later suggested to a task force that it should check out the drifter and ex-con. The DNA left at the crime scenes in Gainesville matched genetic material police recovered from Rolling during some dental work.
Throughout the years, Rolling has insisted he was not as atrocious as many thought.
In a letter to The Associated Press in 2002, Rolling wrote, “I assure you I am not a salivating ogre. Granted ... time’s past; the dark era of long ago - Dr. Jeckle & Mr. Hyde did strike up & down the corridors of insanity.”
Rolling claimed he had good and bad multiple personalities. He blamed the murders on abuse he suffered as a child from his police officer father and his treatment in prison. He said he killed one person for every year he was behind bars. He served a total of eight years in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi before the Florida killings.